It is a funny thing how just the knowledge of a holiday can change people's attitudes and actions into something … new. There were no physical signs of the holiday to indicate that there was anything different about this day. February 14 would come and go here without the commercial recognition that was filling every storefront and restaurant in the city of New York.
The women seemed to walk with a little more swish to their gait and the men were a little more attentive to the secretarial pool. A wink that might have been eclipsed by a more stern expression didn't go unnoticed by the lucky recipient, and puckered lips indicated the promise of something for later that night.
All in all, the halls of the United Network Command for Law and Enforcement had taken on a rather pleasant, albeit indefinable atmosphere to all save one seemingly obtuse Russian.
Napoleon Solo was looking forward to the evening ahead of him. Without any strings and definitely few garters attached, Miss Delta Fleur had agreed to a Valentine date with a wink and a promise that had the American chomping at the bits to get this day over with and begin a night of pleasure that only he could imagine with adequate anticipation.
He felt vaguely sorry for his new partner, Illya Kuryakin. The man seemed completely oblivious to the holiday, and worse than that, could probably have managed a date had he deigned to participate in the silliness, as he had called it.
"Illya, are you planning on spending the evening alone? It is Valentine's Day, for cryin' out loud."
The blond cut his eyes toward the intruding question, wishing that his Casanova-like partner would quit obsessing about whether or not there was a date in the Russian's future.
"Napoleon, I assure you that had I chosen to spend this evening with a romantic partner, I would do so. As it happens, I do not wish to be so calculating as to need a date on the night prescribed as a holiday dedicated to such. I prefer something a bit less… predictable."
Napoleon was only slightly affronted, or so he thought.
"So, now you're saying that I'm calculating? The whole world is celebrating love and you think that I'm calculating?"
The huff that emanated from the young brunet was worthy of a stage production. He hated that Illya was able to make him feel so exasperated when all he wanted to do was help him.
"No, not you personally. But the contrivance of romance for the sake of conformity is simply not within my abilities to fulfill. I cannot date a woman merely for the purpose of saying I did so, and I certainly cannot promise the young woman anything if there is nothing sincere in my affections for her. She would be disappointed and I would feel… obligated. I just cannot participate in this holiday."
Napoleon had a sudden change of direction in his rising annoyance with the man in front of him. Illya was a good looking guy, if not conventionally so. The women seemed to like him for exactly the reasons that some of the men thought him … well, they didn't like his haircut.
"Illya, are you telling me in a roundabout Russian sort of way, that you think you'd break too many hearts if you took someone out?"
Illya raised just one eyebrow at that. A small twitch at the corner of his mouth was not missed by his astute partner, and in that same instant a light bulb of such giant proportions went off in Napoleon's head that had it been real it might have broken a circuit.
"Why, you little Russian Minx! I…"
"Napoleon, that is not possible. A minx is a woman."
That made Napoleon even more irate. What the hell did this little Bolshevik think, anyway? This was Solo's role, and no…
"Napoleon, I assure you that I think nothing of the sort, whatever it is you are accusing me of being. I simply do not wish to raise any expectations by dating a woman on this day of all days. You Americans put too much into something like this Valentine celebration, and disappointment cannot be far behind."
Okay, so maybe Illya didn't think he was God's gift to women. Napoleon did remember, suddenly, overhearing one of the girls in communications give that dubious honor to him, though. What if Illya was right about this? No, that couldn't be …
"You know that Mary Sue in translation… '
That Cheshire cat smile crept onto the aquiline features so smoothly that Napoleon almost did a double take. That little …
"Yes, I know. We have a date on Saturday night, should I still be in the city. Tonight I am finishing some reports, and she was very understanding about it. I told her that I do not celebrate holidays as they are observed here in this country."
Napoleon's mouth was gaping at this new information. Illya had a plan when it came to dating women. Incredible.
"And… she's okay with that? She didn't pout or complain about missing Valentine's Day?''
Illya merely shrugged his shoulders, assuming an expression that convinced Napoleon of why the ladies blushed when the Russian walked by.
"Why should she complain? We are going out, and she has something to look forward to this weekend. If she chooses to go out tonight she is free to do so, but our date is what she will be anticipating."
Illya said that with the deep intonation that was often reserved for Thrush goons and withering despots. And that look, the one that came over the blond's features like a creeping sunrise over the Adirondacks made Napoleon take in a gulp of air.
Suddenly the grey walls of headquarters seemed to be closing in on the American. He was the one with the grand plan when it came to women, and this shocking revelation from his seemingly naïve and reticent partner was almost like a blow to the solar plexus.
It came out a little like a groan, and was met by a smile that was seldom seen. Something like glee spread over the incorrigible one's face.
"Have you always had this … this agenda? What else haven't you told me?"
Illya chuckled, and suddenly Napoleon saw the truth. All of the shyness and seeming reticence regarding women was a ruse. A lie! Illya did know what to do with the opposite sex, and all of the helpful suggestions that Napoleon had been giving him for the past six months had been… unnecessary. The Russian was competition.
"Napoleon, I have lived all over the European continent, including Paris. I have known many beautiful and desirable women. Did you think me to be a monk of some sort? Just because I do not flaunt my romances you have thought that I had none. I assure you, that is not the case."
This one would bear watching from now on. No more gifting him with women or letting him have a kiss when it might influence an innocent. From now on, the gloves were off.
"Okay then. I see how it is. Well, just don't think that I'm going to hand over any of my women, Kuryakin. Oh, and no more setting you up with dates either. You're on your own, tovarisch."
Suddenly the fluorescent lights seemed garish and irritating. Why fluorescent anyway? How about some nice windows in this damned building? Napoleon was upset about this, and judging by the look on Illya's face, it showed.
Illya, on the other hand, found it mildly amusing to watch his partner be slightly unhinged by this sudden discovery. But really, why had Napoleon assumed so much about the dating habits of his partner? When had there ever been an expression of yearning or need that would lead to any misconceptions about his ability to find female companionship.
"Napoleon, I apologize if this disturbs you, although I do not really know why I should. I like women, and it seems that they like me. American women, in particular, seem quite attracted to me, because I am not like every other man perhaps. They all mention the accent…'
He mused to himself a little on that before continuing…
"'…Perhaps you might forgive me if you consider I had no choice in where I was born, or that I speak English with this rather strange combination of British and Russian mixed together. Blond hair seems to be rather popular as well, and blue eyes…'
Illya looked at Napoleon with those eyes, causing the brown eyed American to slump in his posture and admit some type of defeat. Only a self-assured Russian physicist who spoke a gazillion languages and could scale a wall like a cat had a right to describe himself like this and get away with it.
Napoleon's tone was almost pitiable when he replied to the other man.
"Yes, blue eyes are very attractive, Illya. I get why the women like you."
Illya patted his friend on the back in a conciliatory manner, admonishing himself for once again for pointing out the obvious. He really must stop doing that, else Napoleon might really get mad at him one day.
Just then the phone rang, a welcome interruption in what had become a strange and disturbing conversation between the two men.
"Solo… yes Heather. Yes, we'll be right there. Mmm… bye."
Illya looked expectantly at Napoleon as he replaced the phone to its cradle. He knew the expression; they were summoned.
"Do you suppose we're being assigned something new?"
Napoleon shook his head, he was almost willing to leave town and avoid Valentine's Day altogether. Perhaps Illya was right about the day not being given over to mere lust. He needed to think about that for a bit, and since tonight was the night…
He didn't realize he had neglected to answer his partner until they arrived at Waverly's office. With one look at the old man, he knew the question of motives would be moot.
"Gentlemen, we have a crisis…"